“Wear warm clothes” came the surprising advice from the organisers. Well, it is still February so why would we need the reminder? 27 of us met at the appointed hour and were split into 2 groups, because some parts of the tower structures cannot support more than 14 people. Our group started at the bottom, and sat in the body of the cathedral for an interesting historical summary of over 1000 years of Christianity in the Coutances area.
A cathedral is a symbol of the power and authority of the church throughout history and the talk reflected as much of political history as religious. Our guide was clearly well versed in architecture and history and her spoken English was excellent. The warm clothes were proving to be welcome as we walked around the “Ambulatory”. A new word for our vocabulary: it is the space where clergy (and tourists) walk around behind the altar. Our guide showed us the painted walls, (11th century as I recall) and explained the light airiness as being the result of light coloured windows interspersing the darker coloured windows and the lack of dividing walls between the small chapels.
Then it was through a big wooden door and up the first of the spiral stone staircases. Whilst not for the faint hearted, these climbs were not as bad as some of us expected; coming out into small rooms and long stone corridors. We felt very privileged to walk on the uneven pavement overlooking the nave area from small apertures in the wall. Upwards again to the third tier. Across a wooden walkway and up more stone steps. Arriving, eventually on a narrow ledge high in the tower. Our guide explained how a square base becomes an octagon and then becomes a circle; giving the space, light and strength that typifies Coutances cathedral.
We exclaimed over the ancient graffiti (yes really!) and clutched our spectacles as we gazed down at the splendour below. One window described the link between Thomas Becket (late archbishop of Canterbury) and Normandy. We all revelled in our Norman ancestry as the historic links between our two countries was revealed. Downwards by a different route which meant that the most spectacular view was the climax of the visit. On the walkway above the Ambulatory we could look straight down the nave. It reminded of those high camera views of Royal events at Westminster Abbey.
Afterwards (and by this time well and truly cold, despite the warm clothes) we adjourned to “La Moriniere” for a very Norman lunch of Gallettes and Crepes. It was a very convivial end to an informative morning.
Write up courtesy of a member